Monday, January 17, 2011

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Man, I really wish I'd read this later, so that I could read the next books in the series. It doesn't end precisely with a cliffhanger, but it's definitely a “to be continued.”

The setting is the part that strikes you first in The Way of Kings. The country in which it's mainly set stratifies society by hair and eye color (with “lighteyes” essentially being a synonym for “toffs.”). Literacy and scholarship are considered women's arts, and men are either illiterate or pretend to be to preserve their perceived masculinity. And that's just the land most of it takes place in. Each country has its own culture and traditions, without just being parallels to Earth countries. And despite the creativity of the setting, it never feels like a world-building exercise. It feels like a real place people live in.

The characters are what really did for me, though. I am a sucker for great characters, and Sanderson obliges. They always seem like real individuals, and they're still stuck with me, weeks after reading this book. Take, for instance Shallan, a scholar from a noble family who is trying to be accepeted as a pupil to a great lady, so she can steal her magic device and use it to pay off her family's debts. She is smart and brave and terrified and witty and desperate and moral. And that's only scratching the surface.

The plot is hard to summarize. There is the old fantasy trope of a coming storm/apocalypse, but everyone is so busy fighting and scheming that only a few people actually notice the various portents. By the end of the novel, though, things have definitly been set in motion.

I would recommend this for fans of epic fantasy (And it is epic, it clocks in at about 1,000 pages and there's more books to come!) but if you want to try Brandon Sanderson and not have to wait long years for the sequels, you could try his Mistborn trilogy, which I also loved. It's even odder, as it blends between epic fantasy, historical(ish) fantasy, and, in the first novel, a heist plot.

5 stars

Other Opinions: 
any others?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Oh, Shirley Jackson. You are the best. I think this is even better than We Have Always Lived in the Castle, although it's a bit harder to do a creepy monotone voice with this title. I feel like everyone and their mother has read this book, but it does live up to the hype.

A professor of the supernatural invites three participants to stay in a house rumored to be haunted and observe what happens. (And by the way, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS? Seriously, has that situation ever turned out well?) Nora is a shy woman whose invalid mother has just died, Theodora is an artsy bohemian type, and Luke is a playboy and the heir to Hill House. Complicated Relationships ensue.

The house is the real star of the show, though. It is indescribably, inescapably wrong. The angles are just slightly off, the doors shut by themselves, and the housekeeper keeps repeating a few phrases like a broken robot. The creepy things are suitably creepy, although not very dramatic. For instance, there is a scene where Nora is holding a hand in her dark, but nobody's there. It's an overdone story but Jackson makes it tense.

The main conflict comes from the psychological effects of Hill House. It's never clear if the house is haunted by actual ghosts, but I actually liked it that way. Explanations would have ruined the ambiguity. And as the book goes on, it becomes unclear how much of the problems with the house are real and how much of it is in the head of the lonely, increasingly unhinged Nora.

The surprising thing about this book is that it's funny. In between the weird stuff, the characters are joking around and having picnics and getting drunk and it's all really charming. But even with all the bonhomie, there is still something off and everyone know it.

Isn't that a cool cover? My cover was not nearly that creepy. Also, do not make the mistake of reading this all alone in a dark house like I did.

5 stars

Other Opinions:
and like a billion more

Monday, January 10, 2011

Still Here

You know how when you have a ton of stuff to do you can get a lot done but when you only have a few things to do, you end up doing nothing? Yeah, I spent the last week re-watching the entire series of Avatar: The Last Airbender instead of book blogging.

But school is starting and I'll be posting on more of a schedule. I'm going to try to post about 2 or 3 times a week from now on.

Friday, December 31, 2010

My Favorite Books of 2010

I read 192 books this year and came up with 17 favorite books. Looking at my list, I noticed my biggest weakness: nonfiction. I didn't read a single nonfiction book this year! (Apart from school textbooks, which don't count.) Something definitely needs to be done about that.

Anyway, here they are, in roughly the order I read them in:

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: I just finished this the day before yesterday, and while I usually let a little time elapse before deciding if something's my favorite or not, this is a clear winner. Sanderson creates an incredibly imaginative world, then works through the consequences of that world. His characters always seem like flesh-and-blood human beings who are just trying to make sense of the world and how to act. A full review is upcoming.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: Shirley Jackson is a master. Sometimes I would find myself re-reading passages just to look at the way she crafted her sentences. Brilliantly atmospheric and even warm and funny at times, this was a less of story of things that go bump in the night than of how people manipulate and use each other. I read this about a week ago and haven't gotten to the review yet; the holidays are really messing up my schedule.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: This book is so sweet and funny and tragic. If I were to pick one word to describe it, it would be “subtle.”

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie: I read this book for a class and found myself unable to put it down. It is about the narratives we craft: narratives about mythology, about good vs. evil, and about identity; and how real life is so much messier. Also, it's narrated by the devil, which is just cool.

Meridian by Alice Walker: Another book from school. Meridian is such a complex character. Sometimes I loved her, sometimes I hated her, but I always enjoyed reading about her. This book is about race, gender, and the 1960's, but mostly it's about a very singular woman.

The Likeness by Tana French: It was a toss-up between this and In the Woods. I liked the tone of The Likeness more. The casual banter-y way a group of friends interact is paired with the tension that one of them is a murderer.

I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman: This book, about the only living victim of a serial killer, was about surviving. It never settles for easy answers and never exploits the events for melodrama.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith: A family saga that spans only two generations but still manages to feel sprawling, this novel is about family, identity, and what it means to be an immigrant. Zadie Smith tells you exactly what you need to know and no more.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson: This mystery links three tragedies, all concerning women, to create a complex, philosophical novel about violence, victimization, and love.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway: A story of what happens after reality collapses. It's a novel about war, corporation morality, and how human beings survive and adapt; and it's told by one of the most unreliable narrators I have come across.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen: What do you do if you're an outlaw who just came back from the dead? Mullen captures the despair and resilience of America in the Great Depression while we follow the Firefly brothers through flashbacks and their many deaths.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemison: A fantasy about what happens if gods really walked amongst us, this book is also a romance and coming-of-age story about a young woman thrust into power.

Turn of the Screw by Henry James: A simple, eerie story about a woman who starts seeing ghosts.
(Or does she?) It brings up issues of hysteria, madness, and the maternal instinct. And it's a damn good ghost story.

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley: I found this graphic novel in my library almost by accident and fell in love. It's a fairy tale about a castle refuge for anyone in need, and it's the stories those residents tell to each other.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: It's a classic for a reason. We follow the characters Anna and Levin as they try to determine what is right and how far they will go to be happy. I'm definitely reading more Tolstoy after this.

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness: A wonderful end to an astounding series. Everyone else has pretty much said all there is to say—and said it better--so I'll just say I loved it.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood: A companion to the wonderful Oryx and Crake, this book tells about two women who survive the catastrophic events in Crake. It's about the intersection of science and religion and the way women find a place in a new society.

Honorable Mentions: Blackout by Connie Willis (Only because I haven't read All Clear yet and don't feel like I can judge one without the other.), The God of Small Things by Anita Desai, The Millstone by Margaret Drabble, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Changeless by Gail Carriger

The cover blurb says, “A Novel of Vampires, Werewolves, and Dirigibles” and Changeless does exactly what it says on the tin. This is the second book in the Parasol Protectorate series, so to recap: It is Victorian England but there are vampires and werewolves. They've integrated fairly well into Victorian society and werewolves serve in the queen's army. Alexia Tarabotti is a preternatural who negates powers, meaning that when supernatural creatures are touching her, they are human. I really enjoyed the first book, but the problems I had with Changeless also apply to the first book, Soulless.

This book isn't exactly a masterpiece. Carriger tries to ape Victorian prose, which is clever in some places but falls apart a lot and just sounds like bad writing in other places. My favorite things about Victorian books, like a subtle sense of humor and the ways the authors knit social issues into the text, are not really present in this book. It's mostly a fun action/romance with Victorian trappings.

Without getting into spoilers, I had some problems with the way the main love interest behaved. He kept Alexia in the dark, even though he should really trust her by now, and the two got into an argument that really bothered me. (Vague spoilers: He thinks she's been unfaithful and starts shouting and calling her names) Thankfully, in the book, Alexia was bothered by this as well, so I don't necessarily see it as being condoned by the author, but it's still pretty obnoxious behavior on the part of someone we're supposed to like.

Still, it was incredibly entertaining and made me laugh at a few points, and after the way it ended, I wanted to pick up the next book immediately.

I've been thinking about star ratings. I feel like ratings can become perfunctory, but they are a good way to express something that can't really be measured in any other way. I'm going to try them out for a while.

So, 3 stars for this for not really being anything more than entertaining.  

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Or, if that is not your preferred holiday, then Happy Weekend!

Probably not going to post anything for the next few days. I will be spending time with family and attempting to make a jelly roll cake.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I signed up for my very first challenges. I always wanted to join in other challenges previously, but didn't much see the point without a book blog. But there are some very exciting ones.

First of all is A Year of Feminist Classics. We're reading a book a month from this list:
January: A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollestonecraft AND So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba
FebruaryThe Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill
March: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
April: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
May: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
June: God Dies by the Nile by Nawal Saadawi
July: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
August: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
September: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
October: Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks AND Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism Anthology
NovemberGender Trouble by Judith Butler
December: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Second is the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Sarah at Sarah Reads Too Much. We have to read one book in each category before June 2011. Here's my choices:

A Banned Book: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A Book With a Wartime Setting: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (WWI)
A Pulitzer Prize Winner or Runner Up: The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
A Children's/Young Adult Classic: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
19th Century Classic: Maybe now I will finally get around to reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
20th Century Classic: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
A Book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Re-read a book from your High School/College Classes: If an assignment I never completed counts, I'm doing Caleb Williams by William Godwin

Finally, there's The Victorian Literature Challenge. I'm doing the Great Expectations challenge, so I have to read 5-9 books from the Victorian era. (Although I may have to change it to Sense and Sensibility--1-4 books--if I get too busy.) I hope I can get through these:
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Selected Poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope